LIBYA: Looming threat of scattered munitions in the east
CAIRO, 16 May 2011 (IRIN) – There is so much ammunition and unexploded ordnance (UXO) scattered across eastern Libya that local people will face a serious threat when they return home. However, it is difficult to determine the exact quantities because of ongoing fighting, experts say.
“In Tabrouk and Benghazi there are munition bunkers that were destroyed by [government] forces prior to the establishment of the no-fly zone,” Tekimiti Gilbert, spokesman for the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), said. “Gaddafi’s forces bombed the bunkers to deprive rebels of weapons. As a result, a lot of ammunition is spread across a wide area on the surface of the ground.
“Because there was access to bunkers, local people are scavenging for scrap metal for re-sale and also explosives which can be used for fishing,” he told IRIN.
UNMAS is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Libyan Red Cross and other partners to try to contain the problem. “In Ajdabiya, clearance of UXO in the city has started,” Gilbert said. “But we have a situation of people scavenging inside insecure munition bunkers and large areas to cover.
“One area can be made up of between 10-50 individual bunkers, which could cover an area of approximately 20 football fields.”
UXO, including rockets, shells and mortars, are strewn across public places and residential areas in Misrata, Ajdabiya and Benghazi, according to the ICRC. In Ajdabiya, a threat exists from unexploded devices around and even inside houses.
Local populations have also accessed munitions that were stored in army bases in Ajdabiya, Benghazi and Tobruk, before they were abandoned in early March. Some of the stores exploded, scattering the munitions over vast areas. UXO has also been found in destroyed armoured fighting vehicles, truck-mounted rocket launchers and other military vehicles.
In mid-April, UXO was found in three homes in Ajdabiya, including remnants of a BM-21 rocket embedded in the wall. More was found in other homes. Ten large bombs and 18 smaller missiles were destroyed around Benghazi.
The situation, according to UNMAS, is under-reported because most areas of contamination are in battle zones and cannot be reached.
“There is no immediate visual impact because inhabitants of towns inside battle zones have evacuated eastwards to Benghazi,” Gilbert said. “Ajdabiya, etc, are fairly empty. The issue is when displaced people return to their homes where they will be confronted with the risk of unexploded ordnance.
Fighter jet defused
“MAG [Mine Action Group] were tasked with a fighter jet that crash-landed 40km east of Benghazi, but still had live ammunition and weapons attached to the aircraft,” Gilbert said. “With assistance from the National Military Council, medics cordoned off the area to allow the demolition of the weapons on the aircraft. MAG also worked on a government fighter jet that went down near Benghazi.”
MAG is working alongside the Swiss Demining Group, DanChurchAid and the ICRC. “The effort will be extended to conflict-torn Misrata in the near future,” said Herby Elmazi, ICRC operational clearance delegate. In Ajdabiya, the ICRC is working inside the city to clear abandoned ammunition and UXO before most people return, while Handicap International has partnered with the Scout Movement to undertake education through outreach teams.
Since conflict broke out in Libya in mid-February, various reports have emerged of the use of anti-vehicle mines, anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions and other ordnance by both sides to the conflict. The government of Libya is not a signatory to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty nor the Convention on Cluster munitions.
The National Transitional Council, which controls the east, has directed that “no forces under [its] command and control will use anti-personnel or anti-vehicle landmines”.
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